Colson Whitehead

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-Winning Author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys

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Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-Winning Author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys

Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, is the winner of both the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. One of the most critically acclaimed novels in recent years, the book was a #1 New York Times bestseller, an Oprah’s Book Club 2016 selection, and Amazon’s #1 book of 2016, in addition to being included on numerous 2016 best books lists, including The New York Times‘ and The Washington Post’s top ten books of the year. Describing the book, Oprah Winfrey writes, “From the first page of Colson Whitehead’s extraordinary novel The Underground Railroad I knew I was reading something ground-shifting.” The Underground Railroad is a magnificent tour de force that chronicles a young slave’s journey during a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. The novel is a shattering meditation on the United States’ complicated political and racial history. “The Underground Railroad reanimates the slave narrative, disrupts our settled sense of the past and stretches the ligaments of history right into our own era.” (The Washington Post). In April 2017 Whitehead was named one of Time Magazine‘s “100 Most Influential People.”

Keynote Speaker

A dynamic speaker, Whitehead lectures with his characteristic honesty and wit. He is a winsome storyteller and captivates audiences with inspiring anecdotes about his diverse bibliography, irreverent “Rules for Writing,” and how he came to write his powerful new novel.


Whitehead is the New York Times bestselling author of The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, The Colossus of New York (a book of essays about the city), Apex Hides the Hurt, Sag Harbor, Zone One, and The Noble Hustle. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper’s, and Granta among other publications.

Awards and Honors

A PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, he is the recipient of both a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has taught at universities across the country.

The Nickel Boys

Whitehead’s 2019 book, The Nickel Boys, is an exploration of life under Jim Crow told from the perspective of two boys in one of the country’s most notorious juvenile correction institutions, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, located in the Florida panhandle. This meticulously researched and searing book was an instant New York Times bestseller and won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It was also longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award and nominated for The National Book Critics Circle Award.

Revisiting the Underground Railroad

In this lecture, Colson Whitehead discusses his new novel The Underground Railroad and how he came to write it. In the novel’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is not a metaphor: a secret network of tracks and tunnels has been built beneath the Southern soil, and it is through this web of stations that our heroine, an escaped slave named Cora, flees the unrelenting brutality of the Georgia plantation on which she was born. Throughout the lecture, Whitehead deals frankly and powerfully with the complexities of revisiting and ultimately writing about slavery, and closes the talk with a short reading from the book.

Becoming a Writer

Colson Whitehead gives audiences a humorous introduction to the writing life, beginning with a tour through the many failures and setbacks that marked the beginning of his career. Drawing on his irreverent “Rules for Writing” originally published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Whitehead teases fresh advice from the well-used adages on craft with which we are all familiar, and closes this lecture with a short reading from one of his many books.

All Colson Whitehead Books

The Nickel Boys: A Novel
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The Underground Railroad
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He was brilliant, beloved, generous. A smashing success. His talk was superb, funny, self-deprecating, smart.

- | Martha McPhee, Curator of Hofstra’s Great Writers, Great Readings Series

Colson is a wonderful storyteller, and very funny. He was engaging and gracious and his insight and thoughtful discourse with both the students and the audience were impressive. Was such a pleasure to host him here at Scripps!

- | Scripps College

Colson was very well received by the campus community – our MFA students who interviewed him could hardly get words out, they were so excited, and he could not have been more gracious with them. I was told by many colleagues and students that his talk at our banquet was one of the very best we have ever had. I think it’s fair to say the entire community was star-struck.

- | Purdue University

It was a fantastic lecture! His talk touched on so many emotions. I laughed hysterically at his intellectual humor. I grimaced while remembering graphic details from the novel. I honestly walked away inspired.

- | Virginia Commonwealth University

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Recent Books

The Nickel Boys: A Novel
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The Underground Railroad
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